Monday, 22 February 2016

Indie Game: The Movie

Title: Indie Game: The Movie
Director:  James Swirsky and Lisanne Pajot
Released: 2012
Plot: Documentary following the development of the independent video games Super Meat Boy, Fez and Braid as their creator’s battle to bring them to market.

Review: Its fitting really for a documentary which celebrates the independent spirit of its creators that this film would be funded through Kickstarter while also whittled down from over 300 hours of footage with the end result playing like a past, present and future of the development process as well as the Indie game market at the time while for those not familiar with indie games it also provides a fitting entry point into this sub-section of gaming whose popularity only continues to grow through channels like “Steam” and “Xbox Marketplace” which enable the developers to forgo the traditional instore route of distribution.

Representing the past section “Braid” represents one of the breakout games alongside the likes of “Fat Princess” and “Castle Crashers” which drew gamers attention to the independent scene as a place where creators are free to tell the stories they want, while also getting to experiment with new ideas which “Braid” creator Jonathan Blow chose to do by allowing players to rewind the game as a way of solving puzzles, an evolution from the rewind power seen in the newer “Prince of Persia” games and as we see here tweaked slightly by Blow. As an designer Blow seems the most withdrawn of the creators showcased here, with “Braid” he informs us being used as a place to put his “deepest flaws and vulnerabilities”  while relishing the journey from experimentation to discovery as we see the game journey from its simple beginnings to its finished game. It’s hard to tell if how we see Blow in the film is the real him or his more disillusioned self-seeing how he gets frustrated with players not getting the message he was trying to portray in the game and launching him into a campaign of responses on either reviews or forums were the game is being discussed as he attempts to explain the game to audience. Blow as a result comes off perhaps a little more pretentious than he perhaps would like to be seen and perhaps why his time is more limited than the other creators.

Certainly on the lighter side are the creators of “Super Meat Boy” Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes also known as “Team Meat” who are shown battling to finish the game in time to be part of the Xbox promotion “Game Feast”. There game a fiendish platform game in which its titular hero is a block of meat who battles through each level to save his girlfriend made of bandages from the top hat wearing fetus in a jar scientist Dr. Fetus. and which as we see though many of the cut scenes from the game equally serves as a platform for them to cram in as many nerdy references as possible. A pair of contradicting souls McMillen is certainly the most light hearted of the pair with Refenes frequently shown to be struggling to deal with the pressures and demands required to deliver the game on time. At the same its their segments of the film which are also the most enjoyable, perhaps due to their laid back nature let alone the issues they tackle being due to the game rather than the outside influences that Johnathan Blow and Phil Fish are shown to be dealing with.

Ironically the future section of the film is the game which has been in development the longest having first been announced at the “Independent Games Festival” back in 2008 turning its creator Phil Fish into a celebrity of the indie video game world, but as the film catches up with Fish he is seemingly still no closer to finishing the game, even confessing to having rebuilt the game four times already. Despite this Fish comes off as another enthusiastic creator and who like Blow can’t see himself working for a major label instead preferring the freedom the indie market allows as emphasised by the game which he refers to as being a “Stop and smell the flowers” kind of game, especially with it featuring none of the usual requirements for mainstream games such as boss fights etc. Now massively over due Fish has to deal with an onslaught of hate from gamers frustrated by the continually delays of the game, which even by the end of the film is yet to be finished with Fish aiming hopfully for a 2012 release.

While the film has a strong focus on the development of the games, it’s equally as interesting when looking at the effects that these games have on their creators social lives with their relationships and certainly in the case of Refenes his health. Their dedication to finishing their games only becoming all the more commendable when you realise what they are willing to sacrifice just to get their games finished while perhaps at the same time making you wonder if such risks are worth it?

While the documentary spends a lot of time going into the mechanics of each of the three games featured, there is also numerous segments were the creators get to explain why they made the game the way they did, as seen with Edmund McMillen’s explanation of how he teaches the player the controls for “Super Meat Boy” in the game. Equally interesting is getting to see where they draw their inspiration from with McMillen finding a way to communicate with people through games with his previous game “Aether” being highlighted as an outlet for channelling the feelings from his childhood, such as his fear of being abandoned and loneliness.  Phil Fish meanwhile links his love of programing back to his early video game experiments with his father which are also shown here with their delightful simplicity.

A fascinating documentary and to certainly rank next to “King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters” for its unabashed love of its subject material, while for gamers who havn’t discovered these games previously perhaps providing the inspiration to wander off the well beaten track of mainstream gaming.

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